After realizing I must get well, I began to research various different protocols for healing. Around that time I watched the documentary Fat, Sick and nearly Dead; the title resonated strongly with me. The movie inspired me to try a fresh green juice fast to try to re-calibrate my taste buds, give my body maximum nutrients, and begin to heal. I wanted to do it for two weeks, but had to travel for work during that time. So, I made some modifications to it and did green juicing, drank my homemade chicken broth (recipe from Nourishing Traditions), and would eat a hard-boiled egg and half an avocado while at work or on work travel. After doing this for about a week, my sweets cravings were vastly diminished. But, truth be told, I felt terrible for about 10 days (likely due to the detox my body was going through). I had a headache much of the time; still had severe diarrhea; had a hard time concentrating; was extremely crabby; and, got a yeast infection, which my body worked out without any medication, but I did then introduce organic traditional yogurt.
In retrospect, exercising would have helped my body detox, such as jumping on a mini-trampoline to help my lymph nodes drain, as well as getting massages and going into saunas. But, hindsight is 20/20.The good news is that two months later I had lost 15 pounds, and felt much better; three months later, I had lost 20 pounds and completely cut out all bad fake processed food-like stuff out of my diet. Four months later, I had lost 30 pounds. I was now at my pre-baby size, and didn’t actually want to lose any more weight (a sentiment I never thought I would have). However, the green juicing did not cure my gut, or other health issues.
GAPS Didn’t Bring Healing
I turned to the Gut and Psychology Syndrome, known as the GAPS diet, which is also closely built off of the traditional Weston A. Price approach. I faithfully did GAPS for months, first starting out on GAPS Intro. I drank only broth for eight days waiting for my diarrhea to stop before I could move on to the next level of GAPS integrating in additional foods. Eventually I added in other GAPS Intro allowable foods, because the diarrhea never stopped and then I went into ketosis and felt very ill. Later I learned that I couldn’t tolerate the broth, whey, ghee, or egg yolks. My diarrhea never stopped on GAPS. I had read about so many successes on GAPS and really wanted to be one of them. Overall, I think GAPS is an amazing protocol and I have great respect for Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride and her pioneering work – GAPS has helped so many people. I was determined to make it work for me, but no success. I learned later that for me to heal had to cut out all dairy, eggs, and nightshades*, as well as all grains, legumes, and soy.
After a couple of months on GAPS without success I knew I needed more help. I started to see a functional medicine doctor, all the while continuing to do extensive research.
Functional Medicine & the Autoimmune Protocol Brought Healing
So, I began to see a functional medicine doctor, and I got onto a path to wellness and healing. The functional medicine doctor ran several tests, specifically Cyrex labs Array 2 for leaky gut, Array 3 for wheat/gluten reactivity and autoimmunity and Array 4 for gluten cross reactive food and food sensitivity; Metametrix (now Genova) stool testing checking my bacteria profile, immunology, inflammation, digestion/absorption, parasites, and yeast levels; and genetic testing HLA DQA DQB. I was diagnosed with Celiac and leaky gut, then later systemic yeast.
The problem is that much of the testing done with functional medicine is so outside of mainstream medicine that almost no one knows how to read the results except for the functional doctors and the labs that do them. It is hard to sort through what is truly valid and what isn’t. I mostly believe that I have Celiac, even though mainstream doctors do not acknowledge it, and I am certain I have significant gluten intolerance. I am also sure my severe digestive problems are due to corn as well. I did get a second opinion on the systemic yeast diagnosis and neither the second holistic doctor nor I are convinced that I have systemic yeast overgrowth. Happily, I have healed without treating the systemic yeast and have had two nutrition evaluation tests (NutraEval by Genova Diagnostics) by my primary care doctor that didn’t find systemic yeast issues.
Many functional doctors tend to prescribe a lot of supplements. Given my distrust of pharmaceuticals, I didn't have much faith in the supplement industry. However, I do believe that when our bodies are at such a great state of sickness, clean/non-toxic supplements can be very beneficial to our healing. I was taking a strong probiotic (VSL#3 capsules, which I later switched to a soil-based probiotic: MegaSpore Biotic or PrescriptAssist) and a vitamin D3 & K2 supplement, later I added a Ortho Molecular complex-B and CoQ10. It is really important to work with a trusted functional medicine doctor and research any supplements you take to know what they contain.
Where does that leave me, a food systems supporter who loves good food?
Given my compromised and damaged digestive system, I eliminated all grains, dairy, eggs, nightshade vegetables, legumes, soy, fibrous fruits and vegetables, and, sadly, alcohol (I really miss wine!). As time went on, I have been able to add in more vegetables and fruits. Additionally, because of the high lectin amounts in nuts and seeds, I have to soak them before I can tolerate them (I follow Nourishing Traditions guidance, also here).
These restrictions really didn’t leave me with a lot of food choices in the beginning. My diet mainly consisted of: healthy pasture-raised meats (non-GM fed, or 100% grassfed & finished), organ meats, squashes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, real/pure olive oil, coconut oil, lard, tallow, herbs, and sea salt. I highly recommend including fermented foods for the probiotic gut healing/health benefits, but I have had a tough time tolerating them – I typically can only have very small amounts with my meals, but have had better success with homemade kombucha. I am a vegetarian at heart, and in practice didn’t eat a lot of meat prior to this restricted dietary change. Ironically, I now eat a lot of meat. Digestively, I do great with pasture-raised non-GM fed ruminants, wild game and fish, and organ meats. I found it very important for my healing to add organ meats into my diet for the high nutrient levels. Honestly, prior to embarking on this healing, I would have never touched liver, or the other organ meats. I now know how wrong I was. Organ meats are a critical part of a traditional diet.
Most important, the animals I raise and the meat I do eat is what I call happy meat. (Through all of this we moved from the DC-suburbs to a farm in the Blue Ridge mountains to raise and grow our own food!) What I don't raise myself I buy from local farms. I choose only meat from animals that have been raised beyond organic, humanely, on pasture, and fed a non-GM diet. I abhor the practices of large scale factory livestock and will never eat meat from confined animal factory operations. I now understand how critical healthy meat is for my diet, which is why I support my local sustainable farmers.
Happily, sticking to the Autoimmune Protocol diet I am in great health! In Part 3, I'll provide many great resources for great health and wellness. :)
*Potatoes, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, tamarios, pepinos, pimentos, paprika, and cayenne peppers are classified as nightshade foods.
Devona Bell has over two decades of professional experience in building regenerative local and regional food systems, food/farming/health/nutrition nexus, and natural resource management in the U.S. and internationally. She has worked in, lived in, and visited 40 countries and speaks English, French, and some Russian. Devona and her 2 girls left the DC suburbs and live on their beyond organic farm in southwest Virginia raising their own food and meat without toxic inputs!
Photo credit: http://jlaphotography.com/
Note: I get no financial benefit from the companies, people or organizations that I have recommended here. I recommend them because I think they are terrific!